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EU Climate Law Sets Direction but Lacks Urgency

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We need a climate GPS system, but this proposal is only a compass.

The European Commission published a proposal for the EU’s first-ever climate law on 4 March. By setting a target for 2050 at the latest, the EU’s proposed climate law puts Europe on an essential course towards net-zero emissions. However, the proposal falls far short of what the climate emergency requires. It fails to include measures that would reduce emissions drastically, now.

Putting the climate-neutral goal into legislation sends a strong signal – both to other countries and to investors. But we are facing a climate emergency, so it is what happens today, and in every area, that matters. The climate law must make policies in other areas compatible with the EU’s climate targets. It must ensure rapid emissions cuts delivered in a socially just and fair manner so that the EU makes real progress on the path to climate neutrality.

“The climate law is likely to shift the EU’s climate governance from a legal approach to developing a new and deeper political framework. Given the chance, it will be robust enough to deliver change in all EU Member States. Although Central and Eastern European governments usually strongly oppose binding targets, WWF Central and Eastern Europe hopes that these countries will support ambitious goals in the final version and show more determination to tackle climate change. The proposal includes a new balance of power, with specific rights and responsibilities designed to deliver results every five years,” says Georgi Stefanov, Climate and Energy Practice Lead, WWF-Bulgaria.

The proposed climate law contains a review every five years of the EU and Member States’ progress towards climate neutrality, starting in 2023. The law would also give the European Commission powers to set an emissions trajectory the EU should follow beyond 2030. 

Crucial elements that should be included to tackle the climate emergency are:

  • A target in line with science to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 65% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2040. The law should also contain a separate target for removing CO2 from the atmosphere by restoring forests and other ecosystems – something on which it is completely silent;
  • A ban on all fossil fuel subsidies, tax breaks, advertising and other benefits for coal, oil, and gas;
  • Changes to make EU policies in other areas – for example on gas infrastructure, farm subsidies or bioenergy – consistent with climate goals. The law requires the Commission to assess this issue, but only for the period after 2030; and
  • A commitment to set up an independent scientific body to scrutinize the EU’s targets and its plans and policies to tackle the climate emergency.

“The climate law is likely to shift the EU’s climate governance from a legal approach to developing a new and deeper political framework. Is it robust enough to deliver change in all Member States, although Central and Eastern European governments usually strongly oppose binding targets? The new climate law includes a new balance of power, with specific rights and responsibilities designed to deliver results every 5 years. This is something very needed in countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary where the governments are not really ambitious to achieve results,” says Georgi Stefanov, Climate and Energy Practice Lead, WWF-Bulgaria.

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